A whole new, rapidly growing, demographic of our society is now identifying itself as “spiritual, but not religious;” some are referring to it as the “Nones.” This fact of American life encourages me. Religion should point to faith; but regrettably, much, maybe most of religion has replaced faith with sets of beliefs to be “faithfully” held. It’s easy to see the confusion between being “faithful” to a set of rigidly held beliefs and actually being centered in a faith.
Human beings recognized early on that getting people to be faithful to a set of beliefs could be very advantageous. Such religious arrangements make people much more malleable to cultural “shaping” and “grooming.” People are vulnerable to being told that tenaciously holding to a specific set of beliefs will “save” them (in an afterlife), protect them from enemies or bring them prosperity.
In these religious systems, people can learn what is evil and who is evil without much mental or spiritual challenge. I can imagine a person saying, “Yeah, just tell me what to believe that will save me and provide me and mine with security and prosperity.” I recognize that this is a vast over simplification. Unfortunately, people who understand religion to be holding on to a set of beliefs, can act toward others and the world in most any way they want so long as they “keep the faith.”
Believing in a set of “beliefs” takes one to very different places than does “having a faith.” The shorthand version of “having a faith” is being conscious of one’s relationship with God, God’s creation, all living things and all other people. In such an understanding of faith, specific beliefs are interesting, even enlightening, but ultimately faith should lead us to honor these fundamental relationships and seek to defend, preserve and nurture the life and lives we touch. For those who “have” this kind of faith, relationships are not up for choice; they are fundamental to existence. To live is to be in, to live in, these relationships. To have faith then, is to seek the well-being of all.
I mean to say that this notion of having faith includes any faith that the mindful advocate wants to access: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Native American religions, the many “religions” of human society and now, clearly, the spirituality of the “Nones.”
The terrifically good news in all of this is that all of us on the planet who view “having faith” as centering one’s life in connectedness with all human beings, all of life, the planet, ultimately the universe—can share the common ground of commitment to the common good with our sisters and brothers of the “Nones” confession. They are a great breath of fresh air. We are wise to regard them as valued comrades.
Each person, regardless of particular religious orientation, whether religious or even non-religious, can join in the work of advancing the common good for all. There is tremendous potential here; tremendous opportunity for putting to use the power of numbers, the power of critical mass to influence the evolution of societies, of religions and even nations.
We need to join together to recognize our age-old adversary: the perennial trinity of greed, power and deceit. This unholy trio - I like to call it the “dark trinity” - has fed on organized religion for millennia. Currently it’s eating societies around the world alive. Any definition of “having faith,” whether religious or secular, must necessarily lead us to join in the use of non-violent power to resist the adversary wherever possible.
One final, trailing observation: Historically, human beings have apparently needed a
Satan, a devil, to explain human suffering. The actual trinity that lords over human society is the one that distracts us from what the real enemy is. And it’s not religions other than Christianity; it’s not “aliens” - it has been cogently pointed out that Americans are all aliens; it’s not what we still call “alternate” life styles by which many insultingly refer to sisters brothers who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender.
In these times the rise of religious and political fanaticism empowers the strangle-hold that the “dark” trinity maintains over human beings and every other form of living thing on the planet including the planet itself.
Let’s rethink the so-called “Fall.” Maybe it was actually that day that Cain killed Able the quintessential sin; or maybe it was that day that people who had not cultivated the land snuck to the top of the hill and looked down on a fertile valley and decided their numbers made it legitimate to go down there and take what they wanted.